Nebraskaland April 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 35 of 67

36 Nebraskaland • April 2019 Pasque Flower Joy Story and Photo by Chris Helzer he fi rst time I discovered pasque fl owers at the Niobrara Valley Preserve was during the summer of 2017, when my wife, Kim, and I were out hiking. We were exploring the hills north of the river where I'd previously spent little time, and I was shocked to fi nd hundreds of plants on the north-facing slopes of those hills. The plants were well past blooming by that point and didn't even have any remnant seed heads left from their early spring fl owering period. I had to take a picture of a plant and send it to Gerry Steinauer, heritage botanist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, to confi rm my identifi cation. Despite more than 20 years of visiting the Niobrara Valley Preserve, I had never seen a pasque fl ower, and now we'd discovered more plants in one place than I'd seen in my entire life. Pasque fl owers are one my favorite prairie plants. This is true even though I don't live in a part of the state where they grow, and I have only seen them in the wild a few times. I can clearly remember the fi rst time I ever saw pasque fl owers in bloom – it was in April 1996 at Fort Robinson State Park, and the fl owers were mostly buried under snow. More recently, I found some plants blooming in the sub-alpine meadows of the Colorado Rockies during a summer vacation trip. Every other time I've found them, however, they had wilted blossoms, were going to seed, or were well past blooming. As a result, the discovery of hundreds of pasque fl owers in a place I visit regularly was a pretty exciting event. As soon as we found the hordes of pasque fl ower plants in 2017, I pledged that no matter what happened, I was going to return and catch them in fl ower the next April. As spring arrived, I was watching weather forecasts, scouring social media for any posts about pasque fl owers blooming, and reaching out to colleagues in various locations, asking what they were seeing. In the middle of the month, a couple colleagues made a trip up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, and I sent them with a map, asking if they could take a few minutes to check on "my" pasque fl owers. They sent back a cell phone photo of a single blooming pasque fl ower. It was go time! When I checked the forecast, however, it was calling for a winter storm, and about a foot of snow fell on the site the next day. I stayed home and worried. It was nearly two more weeks before I fi nally made my way up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve. That was a long two weeks, full of misgivings and doubt. Despite trying to assure myself there was no way those plants were opening their fl owers beneath the snow, I was just sure I was somehow going to miss out. I envisioned arriving for our April 30 staff meeting to fi nd only wilted petals and dried stalks. I drove up extra early on the 30th, arriving more than an hour before my meeting was supposed to start. As soon as my truck pulled to a stop, I hopped out, unloaded my ATV, and sped up into the hills, my heart in my throat. When I reached the ridge Kim and I had walked the previous summer, I spotted a small patch of blooming pasque fl owers and breathed a huge sigh of relief and joy. Twenty yards farther ahead, I came around a small bend and saw a patch that took my breath away. I stumbled off the ATV, dragging my camera bag behind me, and dropped to the ground by the nearest plant. Call it serendipity, dumb luck, or divine providence, but not only was nearly every pasque fl ower at the site in full bloom, the sky was also fi lled with light clouds, providing gorgeous, bright, diff used light for photography. I spent most of the next hour on my belly, trying to shoot every possible composition I could conceive of – extreme close-ups, portraits of individual plants, and group shots of big fl ower patches. I used every lens in my bag. Eventually, I had to decamp and hurry back to headquarters for my meeting, but when we had a break in the early evening, I grabbed a few colleagues and went back out for more. I'm sure there are readers who have seen bigger patches of pasque fl owers than what I'm describing, and for whom seeing abundant pasque fl owers is a regular, even mundane part of their spring routine. Congratulations to you. For me, that April 30 was a day I'll remember for a long time, even though I hope to return to the site many times in the future when the fl owers are blooming. I was fl ying high that day, celebrating the beauty of the world and my good fortune. Of course, the day is also memorable because the very next day I broke my fi bula, which required surgery and about two and a half months of recovery, but that's another story. T

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